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A Formula for a New Device Idea

A Formula for a New Device Idea
A design expert has a sure way to get the device development process rolling. Hint: it involves consumer trends. 

A design expert has a sure way to get the device development process rolling. Hint: it involves consumer trends.

Here's some practical advice for medical device designers and developers who need a shot of inspiration: consider an existing device and add in a consumer trend.

Medical device + Consumer trend = New idea

That's what Yuhgo Yamaguchi, principal design strategist at global innovation design consultancy Continuum, told an audience during a session at the 2016 MD&M East Conference in New York City. "We sometimes use a very simple framework . . . think about an existing product, apply a consumer trend, and see what that does to the product," Yamaguchi said. This can yield a new product feature or design.  

Yamaguchi will be back for the 2017 MD&M East Conference and Expo in New York City, June 13-15. He'll discuss "What Healthcare Can Learn from Financial Services."

While Yamaguchi acknowledged that most medical devices are still B2B products sold to professionals, "because so many things are starting to trickle down to the consumer space, it's a fun way to think about what we can do differently."
Before putting his formula into action, Yamaguchi highlighted 14 of the many trends within the larger shift toward consumerization and pointed to their impact on healthcare and other industries:
  • Hospital-to-home: Equipment historically only available to patients in the hospital has become accessible to anyone through mass market retailers. Yamaguchi pointed to the temporal artery thermometer as one notable example of this trend.
  • Dr. Google: Patients routinely research their own symptoms online and this should be seen as an opportunity instead of an annoyance, Yamaguchi said. 
  • Subscription services: Birchbox, Blue Apron, and many others offer customers the chance to automate and consistently receive a variety of products and services. 
  • Portable product experiences: Reading books on a Kindle may be the most obvious example of portability, but Yamaguchi also noted diagnostic testing equipment has become portable.
  • Personalization: This is the expectation that we can get products tailored to our wishes quickly and cost-effectively.
  • Customer-centricity: Yamaguchi highlighted Zappos as the poster child for prioritizing customer service. 
  • Hacking/DIY: The "maker and hacker culture" is a driving force in our culture, Yamaguchi said.
  • Monetizing excess capacity: Lyft and Uber are the best-known examples of this trend, allowing anyone to maximize their resources (a car) by reducing downtime and getting paid for it.
  • Gamification: In May, Yamaguchi discussed with MD+DI gamification's role in keeping customers--or potentially, patients--engaged with a product.
  • Aggregation across platforms: Mint allows customers to look at their finances in one place and has simplified personal finance. This isn't the norm in healthcare, with patient data spread across different EMRs, providers, and platforms, Yamaguchi said. "That is really one of the barriers to providing better care, isn't it?"
  • Information at your fingertips: Most people are used to being able to find the answer to a question immediately online.
  • Lease vs. own: Digital music services give listeners the ability to borrow or use music for a short time.
  • Share and seek advice: Many people have become comfortable telling their social network about their concerns and asking for advice. 
  • Quantified self: We can use consumer wearables to gather and analyze data about our own behaviors.

Yamaguchi put the formula to the test and asked session participants to consider the MRI machine. Using these consumer trends as the second half of the equation, in just a few minutes they conceived of new possibilities for the well-established technology. The ideas covered a diverse range, from the dream of a portable MRI that comes to the patient, to features that would make the imaging procedure more pleasant, including personalization with the patient's favorite music and images, a video or status bar that would show how much of the time remains, or video games that could be played with the eyes while the rest of the patient's body remains still. 

"This is a fun tool you can use to get un-stuck, when you're thinking about how to evolve your product, how to do something differently," Yamaguchi said.


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